It’s a taboo subject yes, and I’m sure most of the British public do not wish to talk about their daily throne action…but here we are….and I want to talk… and you’ve stopped by to listen!
Constipation is a common condition that disrupts our usual and ‘normal’ bowel movements, causing the inability to pass poo regularly, or an inability to completely empty our bowels.
It’s estimated that one in seven UK adults and one in three UK children have had constipation at any one time (myself included) (¹), with the reality that it affects more women than men, particularly those that are pregnant or elderly.
For some of us it’s a chronic condition, for others it’s the result of dietary or maybe environmental factors. Either way, it can be painful, annoying and affect our quality of life.
‘Toilet’ topics have been discussed in great detail over the last ten years or so, via numerous documentaries and ‘voyeurism’ television should we say? Sorry Embarrassing Bodies, as educational as you are, people lifting their shirts and dropping their trousers is voyeurism at its best!
I think that as reassuring as it might be to know many others have walked in your ‘constipated shoes’, it still doesn’t help the fact that of the most natural experiences in the world has become a bloody chore!
The medical community has shown us the ‘Bristol stool chart’, which encourages us to ‘get to know’ our poo and re-evaluate our health based on what we see in the toilet bowl… as unappetising as that idea is!
For the super keen, you can also monitor colours and smells…any takers?!
However, if you are a regular constipation sufferer, it is likely you are a ‘type 1’ and ‘type 2’, finding it quite difficult to pass. So looking into the bowl on this occasion is not going to accomplish very much; the pain and is discomfort is enough of a red flag to seek advice and/or treatment.
I can appreciate why most of us probably suffer in silence, with distant memories of what it’s like to have a ‘normal healthy poo’….but that isn’t going to fix anything. Whether you have to seek further medical intervention or are able to take matters into your own hands, let’s talk about some pretty realistic explanations that keep you from getting on with one of your normal life processes.
5 Reasons Why You Can’t Poop
The human body needs water for it to function properly, which can be obtained in many forms. Ideally we should all be drinking between 1600-2000ml of fluids a day and only 2-3 cups of tea/coffee can be included, as more is counterproductive, as is drinking alcohol (which cannot be counted as one of your 8-10 glasses of fluid I’m afraid!).
Additionally, if we play sports, are ill, or happen to be in a hot/humid environment, then we should be consuming more to prevent dehydration.
Dehydration prevents your gut from working at its maximum. If water is pulled out of the bowel, then your existing poo will become a dried and hard mass as a result, making it uncomfortable and potentially difficult to pass later on. Staying hydrated also enables the body to ensure that enough of the nutrients in food are digested and absorbed.
2. Lack Of Exercise
I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times, that we should be ‘exercising for good health’ (you can refer to my previous article on diet and exercise for further information on this), but I bet you haven’t heard the motto ‘I exercise today so I can poop tomorrow’!
Regular exercise promotes ‘active’ bowel muscles, which creates better digestion and transit time. Lack of exercise or even mobility doesn’t allow you to have a regular ‘bowel routine’. This is one contributor as to why it can affect so many elderly people.
Exercise is also found to be vital in alleviating stress, which is something we all have to deal with.
Stress is an element that no one can avoid and it can affect our digestive system, e.g. feeling anxiety, high stress levels, can cause us to eat our lunch too quickly, on the go, leading to upset digestion and constipation.
Our stressful lives need to be counteracted. We need to find time to reflect and mediate, or do hobbies we enjoy on a regular basis, allowing our body’s normal processes (like going to the toilet) to take shape and work without glitches.
Being so busy that we have to constantly ignore the call of nature by, e.g. travelling for work (with unsettled eating, sleeping and pooping routines), or even dismissing the call of nature because we don’t want to use the shared office facilities where someone ‘might hear us,’ ultimately can contribute to our toilet woes.
Unfortunately for us women, PMS and pregnancy can create it’s own form of stress, leading to reduce transits times from a mental and physiological point of view; another good reason to keep up the exercise.
Creating time for yourself to use the toilet ‘properly’ (and I’m not talking about creating wall charts and using iPhone apps!), instead of ‘doing what you can’ in the time space you have will allow your body to develop a routine. I know this is complicated when the call of nature arrives, sometimes it’s impossible to stop what you’re doing to have some quality alone time with a book, but your gut will thank you in the long run if you can find time to schedule it in!
Another way to take the stress out of straining is to consider ‘squatting’. Once you stop laughing and looking bewildered, it’s worth looking at this link to see how gravity can ease the passage of your poo.
4. Lack Of Fibre
A few months ago The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition released a fact sheet in the UK on Fibre (based on their Carbohydrates and Health Report), where they gave recommendations to increase the population’s fibre intake to an average of 30g/day for adults. (²) However, they used a different method of dietary fibre analysis, which would mean that the previous government’s recommendations for adults to consume a minimum of 18g of dietary fibre/day would equate to 23-24g/day using their new analysis.
The average person is currently eating 14g of dietary fibre/day; this is made up of both soluble and insoluble fibre sources. As constipation goes, you need to consume a mixture of both, but this could mean that you could be increasing your current fibre intake by at least 50% per day.
Fibre helps keeps food moving effectively through our digestive tract, as well as contributing to a healthy heart and weight maintenance (through satiety, controlled blood sugar levels and removing fat).
We can all increase our current fibre intake to help meet the new recommendations by:
- Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day.
- Kicking off our day with a high-fibre breakfast cereal! Ones that include bran, oats and/or wholegrains.
- Opting for wholegrains over ‘processed grains’, e.g. wholegrain bread or pasta instead of white bread or pasta.
- Starting a love affair with beans, lentils and chickpeas! Check out our recipes for some ideas of how to incorporate more into your diet.
It’s also good to note that that you should increase your fibre intake slowly, to avoid experiencing excess, gas, cramps and/or bloating.
The recommended intake may sound like a lot, but it really isn’t if you are already following a well-balanced diet…which brings me to my next point.
5. A ‘Bad’ Diet
An ideal diet should consist of plenty of fresh, homemade foods that incorporate healthy living guidance for overall health, including your gut.
For some, creating ‘flexitarian’ days have improved their digestive function. From a personal point of view, switching to a plant-based diet has improved my digestion by at least 70%- which is amazing!
This list is not exhaustive, but they are some of the major contenders to constipation. For some, particular food allergies or intolerances, an imbalance of gut bacteria (due to antibiotics, stress or bad eating habits), existing haemorrhoids, medications, painkillers, or even particular mineral supplements, or other medical conditions could be an underlying cause of constipation.
So before you start forming a laxative or any other type of unhealthy ritual to rid your constipation, consider talking to a health professional.
Let’s go for a walk, eat, drink, be merry and let’s nature take its course!